Blankenhorn makes quick impression with HR in Nats debut

September 2nd, 2023

WASHINGTON -- Manager Dave Martinez penciled into the Nationals' starting lineup in left field the day he was called up from Triple-A Rochester. The 27-year-old lefty hitter had been on a hot streak in the middle of the order for the Red Wings, and Martinez wanted to keep Blankenhorn’s momentum going.

Blankenhorn did just that in his second at-bat Friday night at Nationals Park, crushing a solo home run 423 feet to center field at 104.2 mph off Marlins right-hander Eury Pérez in the Nats’ 8-5 loss in 11 innings.

“Any time you can step in there, obviously it was my Nationals debut, and be able to hit a homer, obviously it feels good,” said Blankenhorn.

Blankenhorn became the 12th player in team history (2005-present) to homer in his first game as a member of the Nationals, joining Daniel Murphy, Adam Dunn, Preston Wilson, Mark Reynolds, Tommy Milone, Adam Lind, Carter Kieboom, Joey Meneses, Brandon Watson, Ian Desmond and Michael A. Taylor.

It also was Blankenhorn’s second Major League home run and his first since July 18, 2021, as a member of the Mets.

“That was definitely an experience,” Blankenhorn said. “A good crowd out there. Honestly, I kind of blacked out. I don’t even remember it that much [laughs].”

Blankenhorn went 1-for-2  with two walks, one RBI and one run scored.

“This guy we faced today is not easy -- young kid that throws the ball hard,” Martinez said of Pérez. “[Blankenhorn] got back early, stayed on the fastball, got a fastball up and smoked it. Then he worked a walk as well. That’s a good sign when you can face a guy like that, get yourself ready early and hit the ball like he did and take a walk. It was good.”

Blankenhorn signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals on Dec. 19 after appearing in 26 Major League games over the past three seasons with the Twins and Mets. He was with Washington during Spring Training.

Blankenhorn spent the season with the Red Wings, getting fully healthy from a previous left elbow injury and making adjustments to see his production flourish. He led the Nationals’ Minor League organization with a .877 OPS and a .517 slugging percentage across 108 games with Rochester. Blankenhorn also ranked second in home runs (23), RBIs (75), extra-base hits (52) and runs (67).

“He put up some unbelievable numbers in Rochester for us,” said Martinez. “We really felt like he deserved a chance to come up here and play.”

Leading up to the first day of September callups -- when rosters expanded to 28 players -- Blankenhorn slashed .293/.376/.671 with five doubles, one triple, eight homers, 18 RBIs, 18 runs scored and nine walks in his past 21 games.

“I’m just happy I was able to do my thing down in Triple-A and thankful I got the call,” he said.

Blankenhorn attributes his offensive success to staying in the strike zone more than in the past. Martinez noted Blankenhorn’s consistency at the plate. 

“In-zone, he’s really, really good,” Martinez said. “Part of that is, he’s even mentioned that he’s just trying to get ready earlier so that he makes a decision whether to swing or not and swing at strikes.” 

September is a chance for promoted players to make a strong impression heading into the offseason. Blankenhorn, who was joined by right-hander Amos Willingham as the Nats’ first moves of the month, also could get looks at first base and as the designated hitter. 

“I kind of want to see everybody,” said Martinez. “We’re in a position right now where we love to win games, but we also want to build for the future. Watching some of these young guys play, getting some of these other guys that perform well in Triple-A, we want to see those guys as well, see how their future lies with us as well moving forward. They’re all going to get an opportunity to play.”